Since September 2020, Soft Touch Arts has been donating the meals cooked up by young people learning cooking and catering skills for free to those that need it in the community. The Café project normally generates income from the public whilst educating vulnerable young people by teaching them how to prepare and cook delicious vegan and vegetarian food. Instead of closing they switched to giving away meals for free, cooking and sharing meals over the past 3 months with those in need around Leicester City Centre.
After being forced to close the Café due to the second round of Covid restrictions in September, the charity was keen to keep on supporting the young people who develop a range of useful catering and employability skills through helping in café on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday lunchtimes. After carrying out necessary risk assessments, Soft Touch managed to set up a Covid-safe kitchen for participants to continue their learning. The onsite chef and other members of the Soft Touch team helped the participants prepare delicious meals such as veggie and vegan lasagne, burritos, soups, cakes and more.
Local schools, Elsmere College and Bosworth Academy, refer pupils who get experience in a real café environment and report great progress in confidence and skills for the young people that attend, and they recognise the importance of the sessions continuing during Lockdown.
Lily, a participant of the project said, “I live on my own, I don’t have any family (apart from my sister who’s high risk & isolating) So I’ve gone weeks without seeing anyone, so being in the cafe means I get to see people safely and stops me feeling lonely.”
The Covid restrictions have left many vulnerable young people in the community isolated. By keeping the Café project running, Soft Touch has offered vulnerable and isolated young people a lifeline by allowing them to socialise and learn in a safe environment. Learning how to cook not only gives these young people employability skills, It has also been a great opportunity for them to help serve the local community, giving them a sense of purpose and a real boost to their self-worth.
It has also given those struggling with food poverty a chance to access free healthy food safely. Soft Touch delivered the food by hand to local organisations such as The Y, as well as handing out food to people in need across the city centre. They also posted regular updates about when free food was available on social media, so those who needed it could come and collect it whilst maintaining social distancing regulations.
Furthermore, Soft Touch has also offered cooking lessons on zoom for those unable to attend in person due to the restriction.
Melissa, one of the Café’s project workers explained, “As well as teaching the young people in person, I have been doing a zoom cooking class for anyone at Soft Touch, delivering ingredients to them and supporting them to cooking online.”
Daniel, who has been learning to cook via zoom said, “I was very sad not coming to Soft Touch, but I did do some cooking on zoom. I am so very happy being back, [via zoom], but I missed sweeping up too.”
Sustain UK estimates that 8.4 million people in the UK are living in food poverty, with BAME, disabled and older people worst affected. Furthermore, according to the Child Poverty Action Group, many struggling for food are employed and as many as 72% of children in poverty have at least one parent who works. Lockdown has made it even harder to access food and the Trussell Trust now estimate that a record high of over 2 million people resorted to food banks in 2020. Soft Touch hopes that by donating the food to these people in need, they can help fight the battle against hunger in Leicester. As lockdown continue, so does their commitment to continue delivering this vital service.
The Soft Touch Café is truly a community faced project and shows the resilience of the charity to be able to keep operating safely during these challenging times.
After Lockdown ends, Soft Touch hope to re-open their café once more to the general public and would be thrilled if the local community would continue to support them by visiting their Café on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday lunchtime 11-2.30pm.